There was a wistfulness in the old man’s eyes as he strolled beside his bride of 45 years before the Big 12 basketball tournament downtown. They had been here before, he said. Another lifetime ago.
And now it was all coming back.
It was December 1968, nine months before Woodstock. The Beatles sang “Hey Jude,” gas cost 34 cents a gallon, and in Storm Lake Iowa, Dean Boettcher was in love.
The senior starting point guard for Buena Vista University had known his fiancee, Linda McKibben, for 10 years. The two farm kids had been high school sweethearts at Rembrandt Consolidated in Rembrandt, Iowa. But even back in seventh grade he knew there was something special about the striking beauty that told him she was the one.
After hitting a rough patch, they went to different colleges — Dean to Buena Vista, Linda to Northern Iowa. But a year and a half later, they reconnected. Linda transferred, and all was right with the world.
In their senior year, after a basketball game, Dean proposed at his aunt’s house. After asking Linda’s father for permission, he pulled out a rose and got down on one knee.
They set the date: Dec. 28. With Linda about to start her career as a teacher, it was the only time that worked. Even if it meant missing his team’s holiday tournament at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.
Still, Boettcher (pronounced BETCH-er) managed to incorporate another tournament into the couple’s honeymoon. He took his new wife to Kansas City, where they stayed at a Howard Johnson’s and went to the Big Eight basketball tournament.
This week, 45 years later, they were back.
They’re 67 now, living in Adel, Iowa. Dean, with silver hair and a few more pounds around the middle, is a successful banker. And through 40 years in education, Linda — who could easily pass for 10 years younger — had taught every level from kindergarten through seventh grade, and served as both an elementary and middle school principal. They had raised a son, who is now the finance manager for the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League, and a daughter who became a doctor at the Mayo Clinic.
Both kids graduated from Iowa State, turning Mom and Dad into avid Cyclone fans.
On Wednesday night they gathered with friends at Kelly’s in Westport. On Thursday, before the game with Kansas State — which the Cyclones won 91-85 — they attended a pep rally at Bartle Hall.
If the Boettchers had changed in 45 years, so had Kansas City. The Sprint Center. The Power Light District. Bartle Hall. In a way, it seemed like a whole new place.
” Linda said, gazing at the Sprint Center.
How else had things changed?
“Well” thought Dean. “The Howard Johnson’s is no longer available.”
,” said Linda, rolling her eyes.
And one more thing had changed. This time, Linda said, she was going shopping. Dean wouldn’t let her go the first time.
“We had to watch every basketball game,” Linda said. “Then he had to get back to his classes.”
Not this time. Life had slowed down, and they were back in Kansas City to enjoy every minute, walking through the Fan Fest in the Power Light District with that look in their eyes.
Woodstock is a distant memory, two of the Beatles are gone now, and gas is heading for $4 a gallon.
But through it all, Dean and Linda Boettcher are still in love. And they’re still going to basketball tournaments in the city where they honeymooned nearly a half century ago.
For others, the tournament is less a memory than a party. A chance to drink, laugh and let their hair down. Or in the case of Todd Beckwith of Martinsville, W.Va., drape a strand of gold beads playfully over one ear.
“Why not?” he said, taking a sip of his beer in front of the KC Live! stage as “Radioactive” from Imagine Dragons blasted in the background. “It just felt right. We drove 16 hours to get here. Great atmosphere!”
Rick Snodgrass, a 39-year-old University of Kansas fan from Topeka, enjoyed the games erected on Grand Boulevard outside the Sprint Center. He made eight foul shots at the Free-Throw Challenge, putting him temporarily in the lead for the first prize — a $100 gift certificate. Surprised by his success, he struck a celebratory pose.
“Not bad for someone with no athletic talent,” the 5-foot-6 inch social worker said.
He came to the Big 12 tournament with friends and family. One of them: Jerry Kruger, brother of Oklahoma coach (and former Kansas State player and coach) Lon Kruger. The former shooting guard for Butler County Community College and Mid-America Nazarene University — who now runs an agency for developmentally disabled adults in Topeka — made seven shots.
He didn’t mind losing to his less athletic co-worker.
“It’s awesome here,” he said. “A beautiful day!”
On the Kansas City Live! stage, fans cheered wildly as Wayne Bovenschen and his Oklahoma State spirit band entertained the crowd at a Cowboy pep rally. After making the five-hour drive from Stillwater, 28 musicians played, swayed and chanted their way to big applause.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything here,” the 27-year veteran said, gesturing toward players of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and more. “Everything but clarinets.”
“Oh we just don’t like clarinets,” he said, smiling from behind his sunglasses. “And now all the clarinet people in the world will hate me. No, the clarinet people switched to saxophones. Clarinets wouldn’t be heard. It just comes down to acoustics.”
Kevin Johnson of Overland Park sported a purple-checked shirt, a purple hat and purple Reeboks during the pre-game pep rallies. His son Trevon wore a purple K-State football jersey.
They couldn’t stay for the game: “Nope! I gotta work,” Dad said.
During Oklahoma State’s pep rally, cheerleaders pulled Trevon on stage and huddled around him for a photo.
His dad has a purple ring and a purple phone, too.
“Our birthstones are purple, too,” he said proudly. “Our birthdays are in February.”
Sebastian Hamm, 9, of Minneapolis won $10 in a free throw contest during halftime of the K-State/Iowa State game.
Hamm, wearing an Andrew Wiggins jersey, made his shot after several failed attempts by other fans. When his shot went in, the entire block erupted — Jayhawks, Cyclones, Wildcats and Cowboys. Hamm lifted his hands to the sky and pointed his fingers — he’s No. 1.
Afterward, he showed his $10 bill to little brother Braxton, who looked a little jealous. Their parents, Doria and Brandon Hamm, are originally from Lawrence, back just for the KU game.
Robert Rodriguez of Mason City, Iowa, and his son Karson, 14, dressed in red and gold from head to toe to cheer on the Iowa State Cyclones.
In the final moments of the game, Robert, drinking a Diet Coke, bounced nervously from side to side as he watched the game on a projection screen. He shook his son’s shoulder’s every time the Cyclones scored.
When the Cyclones won, Robert turned to the purple-clad K-State fan standing behind him and shook his hand. “Good game.”
The father and son are season-ticket holders at Iowa State games. They didn’t buy tickets to the first game because they cost $300 each, but Robert said he would be willing to pay almost any price to see Iowa State face off against KU.
“We’re gonna definitely try to score tickets we gotta go. (KU) is our biggest rival,” he said.
Robert had been to KC before but had never seen the P District. “This place is awesome,” he said. “We had no idea.”